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Triggerfish Fishing in Florida

Written by Capt. Noah on Wednesday, 29 May 2013. Posted in Fish Info

Triggerfish Fishing

Belonging to the family Balistidae, there are roughly forty species of triggerfish inhabiting tropical and subtropical waters around the world. Most of these unique fish prefer shallow waters along the coast and can often be found in the coral reefs so abundant off the coast of Florida, particularly those off. Some, like the Ocean Triggerfish, are pelagic and enjoy deeper waters while several smaller varieties are popular in aquariums across the globe.

With oval-shaped, solidly compressed bodies, triggerfish are often marked by lines and spots of various color. Large heads end in small mouths with incredibly strong jaws that are used to crush shells. At the top of the head are small eyes. There are three spines on the anterior dorsal fin that are retracted into a groove, the first of which is the longest and is very stout. In order to allow slow speed movement, the posterior dorsal fins and ventral fins undulate from side to side. Used to escape predators, triggerfish have a sickle-shaped caudal fin. A single spine is formed by two pelvic fins that are mostly covered by a layer of skin, and are only visible as very short rays. Their gill plates are also covered by tough skin and are not visible, being overlaid with rough scales that form a protective armor for the body. The only visible gill opening can be found above the pectoral fins and is noticeable as a vertical slit. A row of four teeth on either side occupy each jaw, but the upper jaw also contains six plate-like teeth.

Triggerfish can erect their first two dorsal spines as a protection against predators. When erected, the short second spine locks the first anterior spine. This can only be unlocked by pushing the second spine, which is called a ‘trigger spine’ for this reason; and is responsible for their name. You can tell by the triggerfish’s unusual anatomy that their typical diet consists of slow-moving crustaceans that have protective shells and spines; such as sea urchins, molluscs, crustaceans and other types of echinoderms. They are also willing to dine on smaller fish and some even feed on algae, while others eat plankton. These fish have displayed signs of exceptional intelligence and have been proven to have learnt from previous experiences.

Notoriously ill-tempered, triggerfish are known to be rather aggressive by nature – particularly when guarding their nests against intruders. Their powerful teeth have bitten many snorkelers and scuba divers who were not paying attention. Due to the fact that the territory they are protecting extends in a cone from the nest toward the surface, it is advisable to avoid swimming upwards when confronted by an angry triggerfish. Rather move away horizontally, out of their territory.

Known bait stealers, triggerfish will also nibble at your bait instead of swallowing it whole. This frustrates many anglers and is why it is so important to use the correct baits and rig them properly. Our Triggerfish Fishing Charters in Florida will show you exactly how to catch these awesome fish successfully. Here is some information to help you catch a triggerfish in Florida:

Tackle for Triggerfish

A light to medium action spinning reel is ideal, along with a 6in or 8in rod. 1/0 or 2/0 circle hooks are absolutely essential. To get your bait down quickly, you need a heavy sinker that makes it more difficult for the fish to steal your bait while it is on the way down. A sinker will also keep extra tension on the line when you are reeling a triggerfish in.

Bait for Triggerfish

Extremely aggressive and ferocious eaters, triggerfish will eat practically any live or cut bait. In Florida, squid is the most popular bait to use and produces the best results. Your bait needs to be tough and small because these fish will nibble off pieces until you are left with just your hook. Thumbnail sized cubes of squid will work well. Remember to cut fish with tough skins and leave the skin on for added durability. Size the bait to the size of your hook and do not bury the tip and barb in the bait. Rather leave it outside. Triggerfish can also be caught on squid flavored, pink colored fish bites.

Techniques for Triggerfish

Specifically targeting triggerfish can be very tricky. These fish inhabit the same habitats where you find snappers, groupers and multiple other species – and all of them will compete for your bait. Here are some tips to use to overcome this:

  • Locate a group of triggerfish first. Start with rigging larger pieces of bait with larger hooks; as if you were targeting snappers or groupers. Combined with a chum bag, your bait will excite every fish there. After dropping your bait a few times, you will notice if you have lost your bait entirely or if it has been nibbled on and there are small bite marks in evidence. If this is the case, then you are probably being nipped at by triggerfish, which means you have found them. Then you need to replace your larger hooks with smaller ones and decrease the size of your bait, using a heavy sinker to get them down quickly. With small hooks and bait, you will start catching them and these fish are not shy of leaders or tackle.
  • Once your bait hits bottom, immediately begin reeling in slowly and steadily. This will allow enough tension to remain on your line for you to feel the exact moment when the fish starts nipping at your bait. Due to the circle hooks being present, it is imperative that you do not jerk your rod when you feel the bite and cause unnecessary slack in your line. Instead you need to start reeling in very fast. If you reel in quickly and keep the line tight, then you will hook the fish if it has the hook point in its mouth. Triggerfish have soft, thin mouths that are relatively easy to hook, which is why small sharp hooks work so well. Any attempt to hook the fish in another manner besides reeling in fast – such as yanking or jerking the rod – will result in failure. You will be slower in moving the hook and give the fish time to spit it out. You will also move the heavy sinker rapidly, which will certainly knock the hook out of the fish’s mouth on its way up or down. By setting the hook with the reel and not the rod, you will have the best chance of consistent success.
  • Similarly to snapper, triggerfish are usually larger higher up the water column. If you have been fishing the bottom for some time with no success, then you can start fishing higher and fish the line as it goes down. Instead of dropping directly to the bottom, stop it higher and go down in stages. You can stop the first time a few seconds after your bait disappears underwater. In a manner similar to slow-jigging, you can lift your rod up and down slowly about three or four times. Remember to keep constant tension on the line, which is why you have to be very slow with your movements. Start reeling at the slightest feel of a nibble. If you have not had a bite, then slowly drop your bait a little deeper. Repeat this technique until your bait hits the bottom. Once there, reel in for a few seconds and start the process over – this time on the way up. When you get about halfway up and have no fish yet, you probably have had your bait stolen. Reel in and put fresh bait on before trying again. If this happens continually, then you either need to downsize your bait and hooks or try elsewhere.

Call today to book your Triggerfish Fishing Charter in Florida and experience the challenge.

Photo Credit: MyFWC via Flickr - Creative Commons: Some Rights Reserved

About the Author

Capt. Noah

Capt. Noah

Noah is a United States Coast Guard licensed captain and PADI divemaster. He grew up in South Florida and has a passion for all things involving water. He is one of the rare bread of boaters who loves sailing and power boating. Noah sails competitvely and enjoys travelling, photography, and cooking. 


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